Following my exploration of Peterborough and a handful of stations towards London in my first ‘Exploring the East Coast’ adventure (read about that here), my original plan had been to visit the remaining 18 between Hitchin and King’s Cross over the course of a few days before beginning to go north from Peterborough. However, as with all plans, this one went awry and my end destination for day two of ‘Exploring the East Coast’ changed, resulting in me heading for Grantham and Newark as opposed to the stations between Hitchin and Hatfield.
For a relatively small market town, Grantham is surprisingly well connected to the railway network. Two LNER services an hour connects it with London and either Leeds, Lincoln or York, whilst six return Hull Trains services a day also link the town with London and Hull. East Midlands Railway’s (EMR) Norwich to Liverpool and Nottingham to Skegness also serve the town on an hourly basis, with the full range of services meaning the town can be accessed with just one change of train from most of the North East, Midlands and East Coast Mainline (ECML) corridor.
Grantham is a town with plenty of history and is famous for having been the birthplace of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for educating Isaac Newton and for making the UK’s first diesel engines and tractors amongst plenty of other things. Whilst the modern town straddles the ECML, the town centre lies to the east and is a short walk from the station. Finding my way around some rather undesirable 70s architecture, the first stop on my whistle-stop tour of the town was the 19th century Guildhall on St. Peter’s Hill.
Now a Grade II listed building, Grantham Guildhall was constructed in 1869 alongside separate prison buildings and Governor’s residence. The Guildhall was the home of Grantham Borough Council until 1974 and, following a conversion in 1991, is now the Guildhall Arts Centre. The former prison building adjacent to the Guildhall acquired a blue plaque in 2014 commemorating the life of Edith Smith, the first woman police officer in the United Kingdom with full power of arrest. Also adjacent to the Guildhall is the Grantham Museum, housed in a purpose-built building since 1926, telling the story of Grantham’s many claims to fame along with almost a century’s worth of exhibits.
Heading north along Watergate, the next building of note is the former George Hotel, now the George Shopping Centre, which was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby. Further down, down Vine Street and just a short distance from St Wulfram’s church is the Blue Pig public house, one of probably only four remaining Tudor buildings in the town and a survivor of the disastrous fires of the 1660s. Just around the corner from the Blue Pig is the aforementioned St. Wulfram’s which, with the sixth tallest spire in England and second tallest in Lincolnshire at 86.1m can easily be seen from the ECML.
Along with its spire, St. Wulfram’s is also famous for being home to England’s first public library, dating from 1598 with 250 of the original tomes remaining in a small room above the church’s south porch. Continuing on the theme of education, another notable building is just across the church yard from St. Wulfram’s with one of the oldest parts of The King’s School having been the hall in which Isaac Newton and his friend Arthur Storey studied in the 17th century.
The final stops on my whistle-stop tour of Grantham were both on Castlegate and, for once, didn’t include a Castle. Opposite St. Wulfram’s and The King’s School is Grantham House, a 14th century town house owned by the National Trust and home to St. Wulfram’s church offices. Both the house and adjacent stables are Grade I listed and are certainly some of the most beautiful 14th century buildings that I’ve seen on my travels. Further up Castlegate is another public house, The Beehive, home to the county’s only ‘living’ pub sign, a hive of bees which has called the tree outside the pub home since 1830.
Just 15-miles north of Grantham, just across the county border in Nottinghamshire, is another market town, Newark. Unfortunately, due to the calling patterns of LNER services, its quite tricky to travel between the two with only the hour Lincoln/York service calling at both stations. Newark North Gate is also served by another two LNER services each hour, one between London and Leeds and one between London and Edinburgh. Unlike Grantham, Newark has a second station, Newark Castle which, whilst not on the ECML, has EMR services on the Nottingham to Lincoln line which crosses the ECML on a flat crossing about 1km north of North Gate station.
Having seen the riverside walk between the two stations on Twitter a couple of weeks before my visit, I decided to do this first before heading into the town and seeing its sights. The walk starts with a residential road and retail park, before joining the Trent and following it for about three quarters of a mile, meeting the old Great North Road opposite Newark’s stunning castle. The castle was built by the Bishop of Lincoln as a mint in 1123 and is famous for both being the site of King John’s death in 1216 and enduring three sieges as a garrison of Charles I during the English Civil Wars. Following the surrender of Charles, the castle’s dismantling was begun by Parliamentarian forces in 1646.
Just opposite the southern entrance of the castle is Stodman Street, connecting Castle Gate with Newark’s market square. Just before reaching the latter is the Governor’s House, now home to a Gregg’s but was home to Sir Richard Willis, castle governor, during the Civil Wars and is a Grade I listed building. It is also reported that the Governor’s House played host to Prince Rupert during the wars and the sieges of Newark. Newark’s part in the English Civil Wars is clear to see with the castle, Governor’s house and Queen’s Sconce to the south of the town. The town is now host to the National Civil War Centre, a museum and education centre dedicated to one of the bloodiest periods in Britain’s history.
Adjacent to the Governor’s House, the Market Square is the town’s focal point and contains numerous historical buildings including The Queen’s Head, one of the town’s oldest pubs, and the Town Hall Museum & Art Gallery. Just beyond square’s northern limits is St. Mary Magdalene church, another Grade I listed building, notable for having the tallest spire in the county and being restored in the mid-19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott. A walk along the wonderfully named Slaughterhouse Lane brought me back to the castle and the end of my explorations.
Whilst this exploration of the East Coast covered less locations than the first exploration, there was definitely more to do with both towns worth dedicated visits. As discussed above, both are easily accessible from across the Midlands and further afield with my day starting in Peterborough and ending in Derby, although from some locations there are slightly more limited services due to stopping patterns. Also, remember there is an accompanying video to this post, which you can find on YouTube here!